Showing posts with label Tightrope Walker. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tightrope Walker. Show all posts

Monday, 14 June 2021

Con Colleano and Winifred Constance Stanley Trevail

Winifred Constance Stanley Trevail and Con Colleano

My 2nd cousin, twice removed, Winifred Constance Stanley Trevail, daughter of Herbert Fleming Trevail and Alice Maud Stanley Blazey was the wife of - IMDB is the only source to list a date (but no other details) for their marriage as 10 July 1926 - Con Colleano (Cornelius Sullivan), who was the most famous and highest paid "swashbuckling circus performer with matinee idol looks" of his time, known as “The Australian Wizard of the Wire”. A member of the Circus Hall of Fame, Con Colleano is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the first person to prefect the forward somersault on the tight wire.

"Winnie Trevail began appearing on the stage in Sydney (and before that in New Zealand) as a child [...] "Mrs. Winnie Colleano (neĆ© Trevail) was herself a well known Australian Vaudeville Soubrette", dancer and trapeze artist.

Con Colleano on a slack-wire, circa 1920
Con Colleano, born Cornelius Sullivan, on 26 Dec 1899 in Lismore, New South Wales, was of Aboriginal, Anglo-Irish and West Indian descent and adopted a Spanish persona and a costume of a ‘toreador’ or bullfighter. 

Colleano’s Indigenous heritage was unknown to his fans – which included one of history’s most infamous racists - "Few people are aware of the fact that in the 1930’s, Adolf Hitler issued an Aboriginal Australian tightrope walker with a German passport so he could come and go as he pleased."

Trevail abandoned her own career in 1924 to travel with her husband.

Passenger lists reveal that Cornelius Sullivan and Winifred C. S. Trevail left Southampton, England on 13 Sep 1924, on the RMS Berengaria (former SS Imperator), The first Cunard "Queen". This was their first trip to the US, so their port of arrival was the infamous Ellis Island, New York. Various sources tell us that, in 1924, Con made his debut at the New York Hippodrome before returning to the circus with Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

There is a subsequent record of Cornelius and Winifred C Sullivan Colleano travelling from Southampton to New York, on the Berengaria, on 24 Feb 1937. 

On 7 Jan 1938, Cornelius and Winifred (Sullivan) Colleano, left Sydney, bound for California, on the luxury American ocean linerSS Mariposa (1931).

On 8 Sep 1939, Cornelius and Winifred Sullivan, listed as British, board the Italian ocean linerSS Rex, leaving the port of Genoa, bound for New York.

These, I'm sure are just the tip of a globe-trotting iceberg, but it was finding these records of voyages that led me to discover more of their story.

The former Albion Hotel (pub) at Forbes, New South WalesShebaCC BY-SA 2.0

"Sadly Con and Winnie ultimately lost all their money indulging in a luxurious lifestyle, giving it away to friends and making a disastrous investment in a pub in outback Australia in the 1950s (what were they thinking?)." 

Con died, in Miami, on 13 Nov 1973, after which Winnie returned to Australia, where she died, in Sydney, in January 1986. They had no children.


Were they really married? Who cares?

IMDB is the only place to list a supposed date, but not place, for their marriage. I've [so far] been unable find a record of a marriage anywhere in the world, which, of course, doesn't mean there wasn't one. However, in all the articles I've read about the couple, including Con's obituary, not once is the date and place of their marriage ever mentioned, which I find strange. On the other hand, I did find a record of a marriage of a Winifred C Trevail, in Victoria, Australia, in 1919 to a Leonard Mendoza. It would take $20 AUS to obtain the certificate to see if there are enough clues to tell whether this is the same Winifred C Trevail or not, but several things occur to me: Just how many people named Winifred C Trevail are there likely to be? One source claims that Winnie met Con, in Melbourne, which of course is in Victoria, when she was 22. Not hard to imagine that she may have met and married someone else there when she was 19. Someone with the surname Mendoza even sounds like her "type". Who knows? 

You know that I'm much amused by the frequent, self-aggrandising family stories, but this one probably takes the biscuit - although no surprise perhaps among theatrical types. In several articles, it mentions that Winnie "claimed descent from the Earls of Derby" and it appears that the source of that quote is her own brother, Eric, so it may well have been a story perpetuated in the family. A claim doesn't make it true though! And through which side would that be, I wonder? The line we share: the 'illegitimate born' former dyer who downgraded to labourer in Norfolk, or the bankrupted tenant farmer in Cornwall? Lovely people, I'm sure, but Earls or any other type of nobs they were not!

Sources (many of these links contain images):

Further reading: The wizard of the wire : the story of Con Colleano 

Please expect changes to these pages from time to time as we find new data or new records become available. You may like to use Follow That Page, a change detection service that sends you an email when web pages have changed.

If you're related to any of the people written about, I'm guessing you'll recognise them from the surnames. If you are, do please get in touch.